August 22, 2010

Album Review: "Beyond the Gate" by Wretched

Sweden used to be the country that defined melodic death metal, and with good reason. The history of the scene that started in Gothenburg is undeniable, with legendary names like At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and so many others all emerging from that one area. However, in recent years, an American melodic death metal scene has begun to form, taking a whole new perspective on the subgenre by adding elements of thrash, hardcore, and technical metal into the core sound. This merging has resulted in a highly talented group of young bands playing very technical metal with solos and breakdowns in equal measure. Bands like Woe of Tyrants, Conducting from the Grave, and At the Throne of Judgment stand out from the sprawling metalcore and deathcore scenes with their unique blending of speed and brutality. Newcomers are starting to catch on to this style as well, including North Carolina-based quintet Wretched. Their sophomore album Beyond the Gate is another example of just how good this new style can be when played properly.

Those that are familiar with Wretched's debut album The Exodus of Autonomy already know just how diverse their style is. Beyond the Gate is a continuation of that diversity, with a good deal of fine-tuning and enhancement. This album may seem like a deathcore album at first, with the blinding speed and impossible heaviness of "Birthing Sloth". But while the band may incorporate some deathcore elements into their sound, most of their influence (outside of melodic death metal) is based in classic thrash metal. Nothing is better evidence of this than the precision solos by Steven Funderburk and John Vail, who sound like younger versions of Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman in their prime. Wretched also has lots of appreciation for technical death metal bands like Arsis and Into Eternity, evidenced by their use of split-second time changes that those two bands helped to popularize.

The real crowning achievement of Beyond the Gate, though, is the twelve-minute instrumental break in the middle of the album. Composed of the tracks "On the Horizon", "Part I: Aberration", and "Part II: Beyond the Gate", these three songs combine to form a massive epic that is unlike anything that one could hear outside of progressive metal. The total effect almost has the feel of a classical symphony, aided in part by the use of symphonic parts in "On the Horizon". Very few bands dare to compose something so experimental and untraditional. It works amazingly well for Wretched, though, showing that they have the confidence to try different things and avoid resorting to the easy methods of getting noticed.

Beyond the Gate is a massive step forward for Wretched. The quintet has completely avoided the "sophomore slump" and instead delivered a top-quality album that stands head-and-shoulders above many albums released by their peers. Of greater significance, though, is what this album proves about the new form of melodic death metal taking shape in America. Daring to buck trends and work outside the box, Wretched has brought a whole new level of complexity and progression to this growing scene. One can only hope that their contemporaries are bold enough to do the same.

Score: 8 out of 10

Track Listing

1. Birthing Sloth
2. The Deed of Elturiel
3. In the Marrow
4. A Still Mantra
5. Cimmerian Shamballa
6. On the Horizon
7. Part I: Aberration
8. Part II: Beyond the Gate
9. My Carrion
10. The Guardians of Uraitahn
11. The Talisman
12. Eternal Translucence

Album Personnel

Billy Powers - Vocals
Steven Funderburk - Guitar
John Vail - Guitar
Rico Marziali - Bass guitar
Marshall Wieczorek - Drums

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